The Cosby Show: A Work in Progress

Today is the last blog of the series on our favorite sitcom families and the last blog of the year. We have been to Long Island, Detroit, and Los Angeles, and now we are heading back to New York. Today we are going to visit the Huxtables.

Photo: people.com

I will admit, I have put off writing this blog for years. It is a very difficult one for me to write about. Writing this blog makes me mad, sad, and strangely joyful at the same time.

It makes me mad because of Bill Cosby’s despicable behavior. It makes me sad because this amazing show has been tarnished through no fault of its own. After Cosby’s arrest, the show disappeared from the airwaves. The rest of the cast has to suffer because of the bad behavior of one person. But, if I take my own advice, and I choose to celebrate the characters, not the people behind them, I can still find joy in this well-written and truly funny show.

Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner were two ABC executives who had worked on Mork & Mindy, Three’s Company, and Welcome Back Kotter. They were looking for a celebrity to star in their new show. Bill Cosby helped create this show which became The Cosby Show and was a staple on Thursday nights on NBC for eight seasons. It was the number one show on television for five of those years.

Photo: chicagotribune.com

The Huxtables were an upper-class family living in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone. Father Cliff (Cosby) was an obstetrician and mother Clair (Phylicia Rashad) was an attorney. They had five kids: Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf), Denise (Lisa Bonet), Theo (Malcolm Jamal Warner), Vanessa (Tempestt Bledsoe), and Rudy (Keisha Knight Pulliam).

Vanessa Williams and Whitney Houston were both considered for the role of Sondra. Originally Rudy was planned to be a boy, and Jaleel White was brought in to audition.

A couple of famous kids who appeared on the show went on to be stars including Alicia Keys and Adam Sandler.

Photo: tripsavvy.com

The brownstone they lived in was a house we got to know well. It was actually located in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village.

The theme music, “Kiss Me,” was composed by Stu Gardner and Bill Cosby. Seven different versions showed up during the run of the series. Under Stu Gardner’s supervision, two albums were produced: A House Full of Love: Music from the Cosby Show in 1986 and Total Happiness in 1987.

When daughter Denise went off to college, a spin-off show was created. A Different World was about her time at Hillman College, a fictional historic black college.

The show often promoted art and music. Musicians like Miles Davis, BB King, Stevie Wonder, and Sammy Davis Jr. appeared on the series. Much of the artwork that was featured in the house was by Synthia Saint James and Varnette Honeywood.

Photo: pinterest.com

This was an important series for so many reasons. It was the one of the first shows to have an upper middle class family who was black. At this point in time, the sitcom had become a dying art. This show was responsible for bringing the sitcom back to life. It featured music, art, and culture which is seen on very few sitcoms. It was well written and very funny, yet had its heart-warming moments. The kids all were very different just like our own families, so everyone had someone they could identify with. I do understand the human behind the character is often not what we would hope for.

A lot of stars have disappointed us with their behavior behind the scenes. Usually I can move beyond that. However, I have had two times when it has been extremely difficult for me. I love The Philadelphia Story and Harvey. They are two of my go-to movies when I am looking for something to watch on a weekend. When I heard about the racist comments Jimmy Stewart made during his career, I did not watch them for years. It was really hard for me to view them in the same way I did before that knowledge.

The Cosby Show was the other difficult one for me. I remember a story my dad told me. He was staying at a hotel in Illinois for business; he went down to the restaurant this quiet weekday evening for dinner and a drink. He was sitting at one table, Bill Cosby was sitting at another table, and only two other tables were occupied by diners. At one of these tables sat two women who were obviously excited to see him, and finally, they approached him to ask for an autograph. My dad said he rebuffed them and was quite rude, and they went back to their table, extremely embarrassed. That unkind and egotistical behavior always stuck with me. While, I totally appreciate that stars have a right to refuse to sign autographs, there is a kind and tactful way to say no.

Photo: philadelphiatribune.com

In the New York Times, Wesley Morris wrote an article on June 18, 2017, titled “How to Think About Bill Cosby and The Cosby Show.” He described the importance of the show for its “portrayal of black people as happy, stable, well off, and free of white oppression and guilt; for sneaking into typical sitcom high jinks the occasional, hilarious, often poignant lessons about gender equality, friendship, and marriage; and for proving that such a depiction could be a ratings winner.”

He then went on to talk about Cosby’s court trial. He summarized, “Guilty or not, Mr. Cosby’s courthouse behavior acknowledged an additional trial: the one going on in our hearts. I don’t need a jury to know that this trial has worn mine out.” I could not agree more. It took me some time, but I have come to love this show again. I find the show innocent of any negative connotations placed on it because of Cosby’s behavior. However, the trial inside myself did wear my heart out. While I am still trying to like Cliff Huxtable, it’s hard not to remember the hardships brought about by Bill Cosby. It’s a work in progress.

Fashions Fade, Style is Eternal – Yves Saint Laurent

Fashion trends tend to come and go, but series about the world of models and clothing designers come and go even quicker. Let’s look at a few of the series that centered around the fashion industry.

Love That Jill (1958).  While Love That Bob was about a photographer who did take models’ photos from time to time, Love That Jill was about the heads of two rival Manhattan model agencies (played by real life married couple Anne Jeffreys and Robert Sterling). The show only lasted three months. Jill Johnson runs a top modeling agency, putting her in direct competition with one headed by Jack Gibson. Jack is not above trying to steal her clients, but Jill, with the help of her secretary Richard (Jimmy Lydon), holds her own.  Jack also tries to steal her heart, and when they are not fighting about business, Jack and Jill find time for romancing each other. Some of the models on the show were Betty Lynn as Pearl, Polly Rose as Myrtle, Barbara Nichols as Ginger, Nancy Hadley as Melody, and Kay Elhardt as Peaches.

 

 

Diana (1973). Diana Rigg (previously Emma Peel on The Avengers) was a divorced woman seeking new life in America.  She was a fashion coordinator at Butley’s, a fashionable Fifth Avenue department store, where she was in charge of merchandising and advertising. Her brother has rented an apartment for her, but numerous other people seem to have keys to it as well which leads to some interesting situations. Some of the other characters included commercial model Holly Green (Carol Androsky), Butley’s president Norman Brodnik (David Sheiner), Brodnik’s wife Norma (Barbara Barrie), copywriter and office mate Howard Tolbrook (Richard B . Shull), and window dresser Marshall Tyler (Robert Moore). After four months, Diana switched jobs when her series was cancelled.

 

 

Needles and Pins (1973). This show was set in New York’s garment district. Nathan Davidson (Norman Fell) owned the Lorelei Fashion House which created women’s clothing. His brother and partner was Harry (Louis Nye) and their designer was Wendy (Deidre Lenihan) who came from Nebraska. Other characters included Sonia the bookkeeper (Sandra Deel), Charlie, a salesman (Bernie Kopell), Max a fabric cutter (Larry Gelman), Myron the patternmaker (Alex Henteloff), and Julius Singer (Milton Selzer) who was their competition in the industry. Apparently, the cast had a right to be on needles and pins because the show only lasted half a season.

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Veronica’s Closet (1997-2000).  Veronica is the best romance expert around. Unfortunately, her expertise only works for others. If the details about this show and its characters seem confusing to you, you are not alone.

Veronica Chase (Kirstie Alley) owns a lingerie company called Veronica’s Closet. After divorcing her husband of many years (after discovering that he has been cheating on her), she throws herself into her work. She is aided by her best friend, Olive (Kathy Najimy); Josh (Wallace Langham), her secretary whom everybody says is gay but he says he is not; and Leo (Daryl Mitchell) and Perry (Dan Cortese), two other employees.

Ok, get ready to pay attention. At the end of the first season, she took in a partner who died and the dead woman’s inept son took control of the company, wrecking it. In the next season, Alec Bilson, her previous partner’s ex-husband, bought the company from his stepson and decided to work with Veronica, or Ronnie as she is called. And while she didn’t like the arrangement, she liked him. In the third season, after Ronnie and Alec had a fight, he left abruptly and died in an accident, but before he did he married a girl named June who inherited his fortune which included Veronica’s Closet, and she drove Ronnie up the wall.

Apparently, the network felt there were too many fatal accidents and cut the show before another character was killed. While this show lasted three seasons, it actually was almost like three different series.

 

 

Just Shoot Me (1997-2003). Hot-tempered journalist Maya Gallo (Laura San Giancomo) got herself fired from yet another job when she made an anchorwoman cry on the air with some gag copy on the teleprompter. Unable to find a job anywhere else and facing eviction, she is forced to go work for Blush, her father’s (Jack Gallo played by George Segal) fashion magazine. Maya’s father was a workaholic while she was growing up and has been divorced four times.  Their time working together provides them the opportunity to heal their relationship, and Jack eventually turns over the company to his daughter. Personality conflicts quickly ensue with high-strung ex-model who can’t accept the fact that she has aged and her fans have forgotten her, Nina van Horn (Wendie Malick), philandering photographer Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni), and wise-guy secretary Dennis Finch (David Spade).

This show won its time slot most seasons which is amazing because the network moved it around quite often.  The first six episodes were shown in one month.  The next season it was given a great schedule on Thursday night between Friends and Seinfeld.  When Seinfeld ended its show, Just Shoot Me was moved to Tuesday. For the fifth season, it was moved back to Thursdays between Will & Grace and ER where it remained for two years, getting high ratings. However, for the seventh season, several characters left the show, and it once again aired on Tuesdays. The ratings never recovered and it was cancelled.

 

 

Ugly Betty (2006-2010). This show was based on a Colombian telenovela, “Yo soy Betty, la fea” published in 1999. A young and wise woman named Betty Suarez (America Ferrera), from Queens, goes on a journey to find her inner beauty. The only problem is that it’s hard for an unattractive woman to find her beauty surrounded by tall skinny models at a fashion magazine, but Betty doesn’t let this stop her or her positive attitude towards her work.

When publishing mogul Bradford Meade puts his son Daniel (Eric Mabius) in charge of his Mode magazine, he hires Betty to be Daniel’s new assistant — mostly because he knows that she may be the only woman in Manhattan with whom the younger man won’t sleep. Betty’s hard work and determination earn Daniel’s respect, as she helps him find his way through hurdles of the fashion industry. Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Becki Newton, Michael Urie, Mark Indelicato, Vanessa Williams, and Judith Light also play characters on the show.

This is the other fashion show that made it more than three years, and it was also moved around the schedule.  The first three years it had its highest ratings on Thursday nights. When ratings dropped after season 3, it was moved to Fridays.  Fans protested and the show moved to Wednesdays airing with Modern Family and Cougar Town, but it never recovered its previous high ratings and was cancelled. In the finale, Betty accepts a job in London, and Daniel leaves the magazine.

 

 

Lipstick Jungle (2008).  A look at the lives of Nico Reilly, the editor-in-chief of Bonfire magazine (Kim Raver), Wendy Healy, former president of Parador Pictures (Brooke Shields), and Victory Ford, a fashion designer (Lindsay Price) — three of “New York’s 50 Most Powerful Women,” according to The New York Post.  I’m not saying they are shallow, but apparently there was not much to look at because the show only lasted 20 episodes. Andrew McCarthy, Paul Blackthorne, and Robert Buckley also were part of the regular cast.

This was another series based on a novel, Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell. Although the show debuted during the year a major writer’s strike was taking place, it never picked up any substantial ratings and was cancelled.

 

 

That Girl (1966-1971). While That Girl was not technically about on the fashion industry, Anne Marie is known for her incredible wardrobe. In a blog about fashion series, I felt it had to be included.

A young girl who moves to New York City to try to make it as an actress may not sound like revolutionary television, but this was 1966, and Marlo Thomas was an “unlikely pioneer in a flip coif and a Technicolor minidress.” She said this was the first show where a single, perky career gal learned to navigate the big city. She based the concept on her life about a girl who graduated from college, whose parents wanted her to get married while she wants to be an actress. Fans watched the show to see how Ann Marie would fare in the big city, but they also tuned in to see what she was wearing. Thomas personally chose her entire wardrobe for the show and wore many  current designers’ creations. One of the designers she chose was Marilyn Lewis.

Six years before the show debuted, Lewis and her husband Harry ran a restaurant chain called Hamburger Hamlet. She decided to launch a ready-to-wear line of clothing. She could not sew but wanted to design quality apparel. She named her collection Cardinali, and Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman couldn’t get enough of her designs. Marlo Thomas, along with other celebrities such as Nancy Reagan, Betsy Bloomingdale, and Dyan Cannon also bought her outfits. A feature on Marilyn Lewis provided the following details about the designer in 2007:

As a girl growing up in Cleveland, Lewis invented the name Cardinali in homage to her absent father. She was told that he was living in Italy, and at 5 she rechristened herself Cardinali. In her first year of designing, Lewis created a 35-piece collection of suits, dresses and gowns. Her clothes, which Cameron Silver, who owns the Los Angeles vintage boutique Decades, will be showcasing in early June, are a mix of hard and soft: a tweed maxi skirt paired with a floral chiffon blouse, a wool jersey turtleneck halter gown with a plunging back. And Cardinali loved accouterment — a wool bouclé winter coat has a bag and hat to match; a floaty summer day dress comes with its own attached scarf. There is a metallic jumpsuit that Dyan Cannon wore on her first date with Cary Grant, and there is a demure silk gown with ruffles that Nancy Reagan ordered in red. Perhaps Lewis’s most famous designs were worn by Marlo Thomas in the TV show “That Girl.” The chiffon floral dress with its matching frilly umbrella that Thomas twirls during the opening credits says everything about being young and enthralled by Manhattan.

The Cardinali archive is currently stored in the Lewises’ condominium near Century City. Marilyn and Harry rent out their home in Beverly Hills and live in the 5,000-square-foot penthouse, with its breathtaking views of Los Angeles. The condo is decorated with Hamlet memorabilia, modern art and posters from Marilyn’s third career, as a movie producer. Her documentary, “Superstar: The Life and Times of Andy Warhol,” was critically acclaimed, and “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” which starred Helen Mirren, was on Showtime in 1998; Mirren won an Emmy for her performance. “As usual, when I became a producer, my husband thought I was crazy,” Lewis said in her apartment, as she presented each piece of Cardinali. “As usual, I never had doubt, but Harry always has the doubt for me. Luckily he trusts me. I could never have done any of this alone. Harry was always my producer.” She paused. “And I still can’t figure him out after all these years.”

 

With the fashion industry such an influence in our pop culture, it’s hard to believe that there have been only a few sitcoms about the design and modeling business. Although, I must admit that while I’m writing this, I realize that the only one of these shows I watched before I researched this blog was That Girl. Maybe the fashion business is too cut-throat to be funny, or maybe the fashion trends would date the show too much.  While That Girl was one of my favorite shows, I will also admit that one of the reasons I watch today is to watch all those adorable outfits Anne Marie wears.

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